This piece started to take shape when it was my turn to drive. My husband pulled into a rest area so we could switch. When I was settled behind the wheel, he made some funny remark about the snack bags and candy wrappers on the floor on the passenger’s side. The moment of levity reminded me of our shared history of inside jokes. We were traveling north. The journey home was familiar and easy.
The previous week, I’d engaged in a deep and powerful conversation with a new 22 year-old teacher and poet at my school. She spotted my Kindle and asked what I was reading. When I told her Group by Christie Tate, she gave a synopsis and said her mom read it for her book club. That checked out. We discussed grief, loss, and writing. When I got home, I Googled her. I found her poem Happenstance in The Dewdrop. I could’ve selected any number of her published pieces, but I chose that one. It opens with a reference to suicide. I agree with the editors that it’s a complex, rhythmic, and arresting work. It centers on coincidence.
As I backed out of the parking space to take us the rest of the way on I-87, I thought about what I could’ve told The Dewdrop. They’d rejected my Marriage in the Mountains essay for their issue devoted to LOVE. I’d recycled a tale I’d presented at a regional story slam competition. It was a cute and sanitized version of my marriage before the tragedy train crashed into our lives. I didn’t even place at that event. That should’ve been an indication the piece needed an overhaul, but I submitted it anyway with the $10 fee.
I’ve known my husband since I was 22. I sometimes wonder where we’d be if he hadn’t agreed to teach that first-aid course during my post-college job with an outdoor education outfit in New Jersey.
There are millions of bereaved parents out there and tons of partnerships collapsing under the weight of that loss. The landscape is littered with suicides. On the days when I hurl my brokenness at my husband, he stands there with his arms wide open. He holds me close. He steadies me.
We are both designers and builders. I knew I’d write about the process of constructing the last room in our home, especially after we’d decided on painting the walls with Benjamin Moore’s Solitude.
I scribbled the bare bones of this essay in a slim notebook from a workshop I’d taken with Adirondack Center for Writing. Later, while walking along the paths in our field, surrounded by mountains, I landed on an ending for the first draft.
That draft became Scrubbed, a rejection-letter essay with a laundry machine metaphor told in 750 words. While I loved that essay and performed it at two events over the summer, it’d been rejected by close to 20 lit mags, including Rejection Letters. One magazine editor told me Scrubbed came across as passive-aggressive towards another lit mag and they had no interest in it. I withdrew the piece from the remaining lit mags in process and revised.
Here are the opening and closing passages I eventually reworked:
Dear Lit Mag with an Open Call for Submissions on LOVE:
I sent you ten dollars. I’d put my work through the washing machine and pretreated it with a little spray of resistance to settling down. Marriage in the Mountains. Tepid water for a quick wash. I tossed it in the dryer. So fluffy! Warm. No static.
I paid the fee and learned the lesson. Everyone knows you have to put stories about love on the heavy-duty setting and use the hottest water possible. You must presoak tough stains overnight and accept that the stubborn ones won’t come out. If the machine is too full and the spin cycle becomes unbalanced, you have to shut down and manually redistribute the load. Then you restart.
Read my Marriage in the Mountains essay here:
I am grateful Jason Harris and the team at GSR gave this love letter a home.